Fit, Fabulous, and 14 (Size 14, That Is)

Elaine Magee's tips for shaping a healthy body image

From the WebMD Archives

Ever wonder what it would have been like to sport a full figure and live during the Rubenesque/Baroque period -- when cleavage was common and cellulite was celebrated?

I know I do. I wear the same size as the average American woman -- size 14. Funny, though, how it seems we are meant to feel anything but average.

How do I know size 14 is average? Because you'd be hard-pressed to find a size 14 anywhere near the clearance racks in the finer department stores, although size 3s and 5s are in abundance. Even though size 14 is "average," I've found very few women who are willing to admit to it. Maybe it's difficult because many of these size 14s have been size 8s or 10s in years past.

I am a testament to the fact that you can be a size 14 and be fit and feel fabulous and -- dare I say it -- sexy. I've battled an extra 10 pounds ever since I can remember, even when I was a vegetarian. Of course, as I've gotten older and had a couple of children, those relentless 10 pounds have been joined by a few more.

What I find rather curious is that people are always so surprised to hear I eat really healthy and exercise an hour every day. As if only thin people exercise? Some of the most kick-butt women in my power cycling class (including the instructor) are members of the size-14 contingency.

Never in my entire life has there ever been a time when I didn't exercise (even during both pregnancies). Because I liked it? In a way. Because it makes me feel good and reduces stress? Sure. Because if I didn't I would probably collect more extra body fat? Bingo! Admittedly, this was my greatest motivation many years ago. Now I'm just plain addicted to exercise as a stress-reducer. I start getting irritable if I go two or more days without it.

The same goes for eating less fat. I starting eating less fat because it helped curb those extra fat deposits and it was better for my irritable bowel syndrome, but now I actually prefer to eat this way. Anything really high in fat (unless it's chocolate) isn't that appealing to me. If there is a certain food or recipe I like, I have found there is usually a way to make it with less fat and more fiber (and just as much taste) -- even things like onion rings or Fettuccine Alfredo.

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I figure that if, like me, you have the fat gene, you can do two things with this information. You can decide you're done for and stay on your couch, eating potato chips. Or you can get up, get moving, and make the best of it. That's what I do, every day. I truly enjoy finding ways to make healthy eating delicious and satisfying. And I have found many fun ways to work exercise into my life.

In college, I had to practically starve myself to be a size 8. Even then, my tummy wasn't flat (as my then-boyfriend was so quick to point out). Even then, I wasn't all that happy with my body. I was able to maintain my somewhat full but fit figure until after I had my first daughter, by eating healthy and exercising. But somehow, breastfeeding didn't do me any favors. With each precious child I bore and breastfed (and after a recent hysterectomy), I gained 10 pounds -- you know, those "couldn't-lose-it-if-your-life-depended-on-it" type of pounds.

So, do the math. I added 30 pounds onto an already curvaceous body. According to the new weight tables, I was now borderline obese. According to many, I was now "fat."

I admit it; I've got the fat gene and the apple physique on both sides of my family tree. My sisters and I called it "the Moquette curse" (I'm the author formerly known as Elaine Moquette). That was before any research was out on the fact that some people inherit a tendency to deposit fat stores in all the wrong places. My sisters and I were all athletes growing up (I was the dancer), and we were never skinny.

Having children seemed to stimulate a change in my body, but, ironically, it was having children that gave me perspective on this whole weight/size thing. There is a big difference between my dress-size aspirations during my post-college era and now -- my post-childbearing, post-hysterectomy era.

Before, if I slipped into a size 10, my tummy wasn't flat enough, my thighs weren't trim enough. Now, my weight or dress size doesn't even make my top 10 concerns, not compared with worrying about my children's health, safety, and happiness. Luckily, I have the type of husband who loves me more than ever, just the way I am. Today, all I want is to feel fit and strong and healthy, and to look pretty good naked; to be able to pass by the mirror on my way to the shower and say, "Hey, mother of two -- not bad!" If I'm a fit size 14, then so be it.

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I've learned a lot since my younger years about genetics, and what's realistic; about our culture, and about loving the body that God gave me.

Having a genetic predisposition not to be thin isn't an excuse. It's your ticket to healthy living. The way I see it, I have to have my healthy-eating and exercise ducks in a row. Because if I didn't, it's real simple: I would be even more at risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and I would likely store even more extra body fat.

By eating and exercising the way we all should for our health's sake, I let my body find its genetically determined comfort zone. I eat when I am hungry and stop when I am comfortable. I never overeat, not even on holidays. I eat very healthily (emphasizing lean-protein, smart-carb, and smart-fat choices) most of the time, and I have a little bite of chocolate or a small "treat" serving just about every day.

Often when women eat to lose weight, they deprive themselves of adequate calories, foods they love, and the sheer enjoyment of eating and living each day. But eating and exercising to be fit should focus on choices, not amounts; on moderation, not deprivation; on success, not failure. After the diet ends or the year is up on your diet pill prescription, you still have the fat gene. Trust me, that hasn't changed.

Size 14, for many women, can be a size of contentment. It symbolizes the decision to finally let go of the obsession with thinness, to stop looking for a quick answer or the latest diet, and to relax and enjoy life. My daily mantra is: "Eat and exercise for the sheer health of it, and just let the pounds fall where they may." Because I now know that being a size 14 isn't the end of the world after all; it's the beginning.

Pagination

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